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Gabriela Michetti: ‘We told the truth’

Argentina’s vice president talks ‘false’ corruption claims, economic woes and Panama Papers allegations.

After 12 years of Cristina Kirchner and her husband Nestor in power, Argentineans rejected the left-wing government and voted instead in November 2015 for “Change” or Cambio; the liberal movement led by the wealthy businessman, Mauricio Macri. 

The newly elected president, who had promised to prosecute Kirchner over alleged public works-related corruption charges, had to start from scratch.

But Mauricio Macri is not alone in his struggle. Perhaps his biggest public supporter is his vice president, Gabriela Michetti, the second woman to ever serve as vice president of Argentina. She is also fighting hand-in-hand to implement the policies they think will put Argentina back on track.

The Province of Buenos Aires, which is the most important province, is running a 22 percent deficit against its GDP. That is a total disaster.

by Gabriela Michetti, vice president of Argentina

And Michetti is no stranger to overcoming tough challenges. A serious car accident in 1994 left her in a wheelchair. But that did not stop her from entering public service. She started her career as a social worker but, in 2003, she joined the then newly formed party “Change”. Under Macri’s party leadership, she won local elections and became a member of the Buenos Aires Senate.

The Macri administration has now been in office a year. Has the new leadership done what it promised? Has the legacy of the Kirchner’s been dealt with? Is the economy back on track?

This week, we discuss the challenges the new government has faced and what the country should expect in 2017.

Vice President Gabriela Michetti talks to Al Jazeera.

The current government faces a significant challenge with Argentina’s economy. The international community has lauded the Macri administration on its plans to save the country from economic dire straits but, within Argentina, many are convinced that the government has put into play a resolution that favours only the elite and businessmen. Michetti says these criticisms are built on lies told to the public by the former Kirchner government.

“The former administration claimed that annual inflation stood at 9 percent, poverty at 5 percent. The former president even argued that poverty was higher in Germany than in Argentina … then, we told the truth,” says Michetti. “We did not increase poverty – we told the truth. It turned out that one-third of the population lives in poverty.”

She continues: “Those that claim that our administration has increased poverty, that we only favour the rich or that this administration is for the powerful – those are just a group of people that count for less than 25 percent of the population. It is a radical group that defends the former administration’s policies.” 

With discontent brewing and protesters taking to the streets, however, what is the government’s messages to the Argentine public, currently struggling with inflation and widespread poverty? 

“We say to the people, and have said during the campaign, that this year would be the hardest of all because we have to put the economy in order, as the deficit against the GDP is seven percent; all of the local and provincial administrations are running deficits.”

Asked about Argentina’s reputation for having a “culture of corruption” and the alleged involvement of President Macri with an offshore company, revealed in 2016’s leaked Panama Papers, Michetti explains that this, once again, is a case of misinformation.

“The company of which the president was a member of the board belonged to his father,” says Michetti. “It was not a hidden offshore company, or undeclared in the Argentine government, or unknown, or that it did not pay taxes. It was a way of doing business abroad at the time when it was not possible to register the company in the country. Absolutely nothing of the president’s involvement in the company entails illegality, corruption or irregularity – absolutely nothing.” 

Gender violence in Argentina has been an ongoing human rights issue for administrations in power for decades. Michetti addresses the issue head on, explaining how the Macri government has developed solutions for the problem. 

“Now, for the first time, we have a governmental programme on this issue – a concrete programme on gender violence and femicide from the government, as resources have to be allocated because work has to be organised,” says Michetti. 

When questioned about a radio interview that the president had given two years ago, claiming that all women like to hear compliments even in “a vulgar way”, Michetti claims there should still be faith in Macri’s commitment to the gender violence programme. 

“I vividly recall, at the beginning, that he would ask me to help him because he needed to learn how to work with women. He had never worked with women before, because all his jobs were in male environments,” says Michetti. “He has been opening up, considering and committing himself to the issue.” 

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